3 Questions For Writers From Robopocalypse

Just finished reading Robopocalypse, a new work of fiction that is shooting up the bestseller charts (its already been optioned by Spielberg for a movie). Essentially, its a book about the coming robot apocalypse. Surprisingly, it ended up being slow and boring towards the end and I would not recommend it to anyone unless they love science fiction and are looking for a mindless read.

Even though its not something that I recommend reading, the author used an interesting writing device. At the beginning of the novel, one of the main characters finds the robot “black box”. It has recorded all of the major events in the war that is now over via surveillance video, interview transcripts, copies of documents, and more. This story is told through a variety of devices and perspectives, and there are some good lessons and ideas for fiction writers to learn from here.

First, what perspective do you want to tell the story in? There are many different viewpoints in a story that an author can work off of. Do you tell the story in first person or third person? Will it have one viewpoint or multiple viewpoints? Is the narrator omniscient or restricted by the medium (like a video camera)? Experimenting with different perspectives will help you consider all of these questions and write a more compelling story.

Secondly, how can you tell the story with something besides plain text? Are there any documents central to the story that move it along? What about including an interview, or the description of footage from a camera? Does this evidence draw the reader deeper into the story?

Finally, how do you create suspense with different perspectives? The fatal flaw in Robopocalypse was that the ending was already known on the first few pages of the book. Removing the suspense makes it much harder to compel readers to follow the storyline further. If you tell the story from more than one viewpoint, make sure their viewpoints are the characters and that they are limited in that way. If every character has the same point of view, then why use more than one? Be sure you don’t tell too much of the story too early. Build up to the “all-knowing character” by interacting with the more limited characters first.

Great idea for a book’s structure and some great lessons from it, but ultimately not a great book. Hopefully the movie turns out better and doesn’t give away the story too early.